June 30: We were all a bit sad when we left Astana this morning saying good-by to Clay and Blake on the steps of our hotel. Their 32 Ford V8’s engine is torn apart in a repair shop. The crankshaft has been reground, but they are now waiting for bearing inserts from the U.S. UPS tracking shows the bearings are now in Frankfort, Germany but are not expected to arrive in Kazakhstan until Monday. Jama, one of our guides will accompany the rest of us to the Russian border then turn back to escort Clay. Even if everything goes perfectly, they will be at least 6 days behind us. Can they catch up or will we next see them in Paris? Will his car run without any more problems?
Tonight we are in Petropaviovsk only miles from the Russian border that we will cross tomorrow. Jama asked if we could smell Mother Russia? He loves Russia and his excitement is contagious. I can hardly wait. Jan and I crossed Russia in September of ’09 by train, but this will be different. So much of what we saw today reminded us of the Russia we saw, the small wood houses with blue trim on the windows, the fences and gardens. When I commented to Jama that it seemed so Russian here, his response was, yes, because this is Russia. All the signs are in the Cyrillic alphabet now and as foreign as Chinese characters.
We are stopped frequently by the Kazakhstan traffic police, mostly to look at Jerry’s corvette. It is a bit annoying as it slows our progress, but we are told this will be much worse in Russia. Today was Jerry’s birthday and we all teased him this was all part of his birthday gift-that and the section of rutted dirt roads we had to drive. I think he was quite willing to forgo any more gifts by the time this day was over, but how do you low profile such a car as his?
Actually I was the one that received a gift today. We celebrated Jerry’s birthday at lunch with cake and candles like we did Jan’s birthday earlier. I walked outside to refresh before driving again to find several girls that I think worked at the bar next door. They were admiring the cars and asking (in Kazan) all about the event. We conversed in sign and gestures and as I walked away, one of them ran after me and gave me a beer stein than Jama tells me has the label of the premier beer in Kazakhstan. Eat your heart our Jerry, all you got was attention from the police!
Our hotel is not nearly as elegant as the one in Astana, but the most unusual one we have been in. It even has a library with two books in English, One is Saving Graces, by Elizabeth Edwards. (You do remember John Edwards right?) How in the world did that get here?
Tomorrow Russia and another border crossing story to be sure.